Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

'It Feels like Being Deaf Is Normal': An Exploration into the Complexities of Defining D/deafness and Young D/deaf People's Identities

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

'It Feels like Being Deaf Is Normal': An Exploration into the Complexities of Defining D/deafness and Young D/deaf People's Identities

Article excerpt


In this article we discuss the tensions between the definitions and meanings of Deafness/deafness and disability. We consider the significant academic discourses about the construction of Deafness/deafness. There follows a section in which we examine some of the methodological implications of working with D/deaf people. (1) The final part of the discussion draws upon young D/deaf people's articulations of their identities and their social and cultural experiences in the U.K. (2)

Our research with D/deaf people highlighted the importance of transforming representations of impaired persons' identities, lives and geographies as 'homogenous' which are often found in some parts of disability studies and geography (consider similar calls from Chouinard 1997, 383; Dear et al. 1997; Parr and Butler 1999, 10). What our work with young D/deaf people shows is that 'being D/deaf' in contemporary Britain is an extremely complex and contested experience. It provides a very clear example of the fluidity and dynamism of social identities, especially when this is viewed in the context of the disabled/abled binary. What this article examines are the ways in which young D/deaf people do not fit into such a binary but instead are bound up with other binaries, Deaf/deaf and D/deaf/hearing. However, what is clear below is that even these binaries are problematic. D/deaf young people are able to articulate and live out their identities in empowered and resistive ways. They do not seem as constrained by the binaries as some parts of disability or D/deaf studies are.

Our Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project explored the ways in which three groups of young people aged 16-25 experienced social exclusion and inclusion through processes of marginalisation and resistance within a range of socio-spatial institutions: home, family, school, college/university, workplace, community. For the qualitative research, which formed the main element of the project, three groups were interviewed: young lesbians and gay men, D/deaf youth and D/deaf lesbian and gay young people (15, 15 and 5 people in each group respectively). The project also conducted 39 retrospective interviews with people in each of these groupings who are older than 25. Twenty-nine people representing a range of professional personnel working with the groups of young people were interviewed.

This article specifically draws upon the 20 interviews conducted with D/deaf young people, 15 who were identified as heterosexual and five as lesbian or gay. The young people were differentiated in a range of ways. They were drawn from a wide range of social backgrounds in terms of their parents' social class, educational qualifications, household structures and employment status. Two interviewees had D/deaf parents or siblings; all the others had hearing parents, siblings and relatives. The respondents were differentiated in terms of the means of communication they used, both generally and for the interviews: three of them used oral communication methods (lip reading and speech), one interviewee used a mixture of Sign Supported English (SSE) and British Sign Language (BSL) and the rest used BSL only. The interviews of the latter were all conducted with the use of an interpreter (for a fuller discussion of this, see below). The group of 20 consisted of 14 young women and 6 young men (more young women 'opted into' the research than young men (Skelton 2001a). In terms of ethnicity one interviewee was of Caribbean descent, another a British-Indian Sikh, another a British-Pakistani Muslim, one person was Irish and another Russian. These interviewees had learned the sign language of their countries and so BSL was their second language in sign. The remaining interviewees were all British and white.

This piece draws upon the specific case study material relating to young D/deaf people's identities. Other articles we have published explore different aspects of the D/deaf research, the issues relating to lesbian and gay identities, and analysis of the similarities and differences between the two key groups (see Skelton and Valentine 2002; Valentine, Butler and Skelton 2001; Valentine and Skelton 2003; Valentine, Skelton and Butler 2002; Valentine, Skelton and Butler 2003). …

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